Ah Tombi (Tomba in the US)… It’s a very unique platformer for the Playstation 1 that despite critical praise at the time never gathered many sales, and after one lackluster sequel the developer Whoopee Camp dies.
What made Tombi unique was just how much there was to do in the game. There were little quests everywhere, some more focused and leading to more quests along a quest chain, and others quite small or simply pointing out things that could be done. This in itself isn’t actually very interesting. What Tombi did though was combine that with a small condensed world. Getting from any 2 locations to do a quest is usually very fast, easy and this is before you get unlimited instant travel. This large amount of quests combined with a condensed world meant that at one time you would usually have upwards of 15 quests going, and would always be able to get around to do them all. Getting closer to finishing one quest opened up getting closer to the many you already have.
Although despite that, your inventory remains surprisingly small throughout the course of the game, you gain very few new abilities. While this does mean your quests are heavily weighted in terms of reward, some offering nothing but AP, a currency that does almost nothing. However those quests are usually trivial or halfway points between quests to help guide you. This variable weight to quests indicated by how much AP they are worth, also helps set how involved any task is, and lets you choose what you want to focus on.
What makes this different to many open world games is that more often than not you are always unsure about how important a quest would be outside of those marked by main mission. But the differences between various side missions can be huge and not shown at all, making it incredibly hard to prioritize.
But even without this feature Tombi would have the upper hand: Condensed worlds are much easier to uncover everything in and to multi task in. So it hardly matters if you don’t know which quest you should be doing, because you are likely to stumble across more or find solutions to others. In this case the condensed world ensures there is always something to do and that it will be found. Whereas in many modern games the chances of you just wandering into something interesting are quite low. Most of the time there are large spaces between relevant areas, whereas by the time you’ve finished Tombi you’ll probably be able to remember almost ever area of the game in detail, because all the game mattered for multiple things.
The other important lesson Tombi teaches us about games is that content is not the same as space. The Elder Scrolls series has always confused the two as the same. Which has usually resulted in large open worlds which have widely spaced content. It creates a grand world, but it also stops you feeling excited to go through things. Tombi you explore every nook and cranny, because more often than not there is something wonderful to see. It could be a silly character playing hide and seek, or a bird fast asleep to wake up, or a dwarf to bite and learn the language from. In Oblivion you can usually assume that any given forest has very little of note.
This isn’t to say large open spaces can’t be fun, but to remind people that condensed worlds can be equally enjoyable.
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